The Big Ten season starts back up this week after the two early season tilts as the Illini travel to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers on Wednesday. After a strong 2017 that featured ten wins by the Illini, Brad Underwood’s team looks to gain momentum going in to 2018. 2017 was not without its ups and downs, and the Illini could realistically be an undefeated team had they not found ways to beat themselves in all five losses.
As for the new calendar year, though, Underwood hopes to have this squad poised and focused on the task at hand, which still has hope for a berth in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. What exactly do the Illini need to do in order to come out of Minnesota with a victory?
Shoot Your Shot
This is not a dig at anyone on the squad, but too often this season guys have passed up on wide open looks. In their last game, Mark Alstork passed up on several wide open shots and handed off to other shooters. That speaks to the confidence level of a player, and when you play with a lack of confidence, no matter how open, your shots just won’t fall. Guys like Alstork have to take their shot, especially when wide open.
Take The Right Shot
Speaking to that, don’t find yourself overconfident. Confidence can be a momentum killer when guys find themselves with the hot hand. Just because you have the hot hand does not mean that you SHOULD take the contested shot. When that second defender collapses on you, find the open guy and capitalize on the defensive mistake. Illinois will need to make the smart shot selection, especially if their cold streak from behind the arc continues (5-19 in their last game).
Minnesota plays a similar style of defense that the Illini play, and their defensive stats are impressive. Minnesota is second in the country in total blocks (110) through fifteen games. When you add in 5.6 steals per game and the seventh most rebounds per game nationally, you have a situation that requires your best effort. If the Illini plan to come away victorious, they will need to find ways to limit their mistakes not only on offense but also on defense.
I think that the Illini are better than advertised. I know that five losses looks bad this early in the season, but they have all been close and most have come at their own doing. I expect a lower scoring, defense heavy game, but I will take the Illini to come out victorious and give Brad Underwood his first Big Ten win of the season 62-60.